"Stunts, Blunts some say I can never surpass."
There's a good reason for Diamond D to make this declaration on "D.I.A.M.O.N.D." Leaked before Diamond's new album "The Huge Hefner Chronicles" hit stores, the track heralded the return of a rapper/producer who has always been widely recognized for talent in one of thoee two areas - usually the latter. He's been the man behind the boards on more hits than you can count on both hands and feet, both inside and outside the D.I.T.C. collective. When Diamond decided to use those production talents for his own solo album, he created an almost accidental hip-hop classic. "Stunts, Blunts, & Hip Hop" won over fans worldwide by combining Diamond's incredible beats with a straightforward and distinctive rap flow. He wasn't trying to win over people as the greatest lyricist to ever put pen to pad, but a natural knack for storytelling and charismatic delivery more than made up for any deficits. Even fellow hip-hop veterans like Fat Joe are still in awe of how dope Diamond's rap debut was over 15 years ago - or as he says himself on the album's intro, "I don't know how he did it!"
Lately I don't either. I've always been a fan of Diamond's top notch beats and even in 2008 he has an inventive musical mind that could turn Joe Nobody into rap's next superstar with just one track. Somehow though Diamond's solo albums since that debut long ago have failed to recapture the magic. Initially I found his 1997 follow-up "Hatred, Passions and Infidelity" to be disappointing, but if I had known how underwhelming 2003's "Grown Man Talk" would be six years later I'd probably have felt it was a four mic album by comparison. D never professed to be the greatest rapper, but it's still remarkable how such an initially charismatic rapper could regress with each progressive release. Simple rhymes got simpler. Unenthusiastic flows got even more sleepy. Even the beats seemed to take a hit, although they held up much better than the rhymes. The man who once vowed he was the "Best Kept Secret" in rap needed to keep a much bigger secret - just how little passion he had for rapping. Not releasing "Grown Man Talk" at all would have kept it. Maybe an instrumental version would've been better. It's hard to surpass a classic when you don't even try.
On "The Huge Hefner Chronicles" one at least gets the sense Diamond is trying. "Grown Man Talk" may have suffered from Diamond's inability to juggle both rapping and producing at the same time, a trick he could only pull off on his masterpiece debut. This time instead of producing almost the entire album, Diamond turns over the reigns to some very capable beatsmiths who undoubtedly grew up bopping their heads to his gems. Illmind rocks an effective vocal sample crooning throughout the background of "Don't Beg" and combined it with gunshot drums and hypnotic bass. "I Getz it In" is Cook's attempt to come with big dramatic horns, a sonic landscape that's half Diamond and half Just Blaze, combined to be wholly entertaining. Def Jef smoothes things out on "It'll Be Alright" when Novel croons the chorus, and much like Diamond he's a producer I'm always happy to hear from. Don't presume D completely gave up on the boards though, as he gets triple time crunk with piano and bass on "Good Tyme" and brings in both Sadat X and Stacy Epps to prove "When Ur Hot Ur Hot." Still it's when other producers turn in beats that Diamond turns in his best raps, as can be heard on the DJ Scratch produced "U Can't Be Me":
"When I move it's kinetic, the groove is emphatic
You dudes is synthetic, you fools are just deaded
You snooze I don't wet it, peruse I don't let it
Amused I just set it and you - too generic
In truth it's pathetic, uhh, life is short
Take mine off the top, sippin wine off a yacht
Blow your mind off the top; and you sensitive thugs
all need to get your mind off the jock"
Combined with a short length album (twelve tracks that seem to blow by real fast) Diamond D is turning in a stronger performance on "The Huge Hefner Chronicles" than has been seen in a long time. There are still problems though. The aforementioned "D-I-A-M-O-N-D" should have been a banger, particularly with Nottz on the board, but the Sesame Street melody and sing-a-long hook grate and irritate. Even when he has great beats to rap to and can craft a competent verse, it's still hard to feel any enthusiasm from D's vocal delivery. Eventually you start to feel like he's phoning it in, especially when the word "in" forms the rhyme for four straight bars on "I Getz it In." What set "Stunts, Blunts, & Hip Hop" apart back in the day wasn't just some of the best beats Diamond has ever produced, it was the fact he really seemed motivated to shine on 'em, letting enthusiasm carry what his verbals couldn't. Listening to him rap now you'd almost think he sipped on cough syrup all day long. Slow, tired, lethargic, you pick the term. Even on the most hype beats he sounds bored. I can recommend "The Huge Hefner Chronicles" if you're a fan of production and for the small improvements D made to his rhyming craft, but if you're going to state that critics feel you can't surpass your debut album you should put more effort into TRYING to surpass it. It just doesn't feel like D came with his A game.
Music Vibes: 7.5 of 10 Lyric Vibes: 6 of 10 TOTAL Vibes: 6.5 of 10
Originally posted: October 21, 2008